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  • Archive for April, 2005

    Google’s Picasa Software and Gmail: Not Quite Great, But So Sticky

    Posted by Jonathan on 30th April 2005 (All posts by )

    I started using Google’s Picasa 2 software because 1) I was looking for a way to do easy batch-viewing and -editing of photo image files, 2) it was recommended and 3) it’s free.

    Results are mixed, though on balance I find Picasa useful as a supplement to Photoshop Elements 2 (which has limited batch-viewing and no batch-editing capabilities). Picasa makes it easy to select a group of images and apply simple corrections en masse, e.g., to create a virtual contact-sheet for film scans — very helpful. Picasa also makes it simple to categorize and search images, and to export or email them (resized appropriately, and automatically, according to easy-to-set user preferences). Its image-adjustment controls are rudimentary but well designed and effective. There is no way to remove dust spots, but Picasa is clearly intended for the casual digital photographer rather than the hobbyist film aficionado (who can always use Photoshop for specialized editing).

    Picasa’s big flaw is that it has no provision for displaying the directory hierarchies on the user’s hard drive. Picasa’s file-library window shows only directories that contain images. The apparent idea is that the user will search for images by date, tag or label, so who needs hierarchy. Or maybe Google expects everyone to keep his images in the Windows-default “My Photos” or “My Pictures” directory. Or perhaps it’s a carryover from some Mac-centric view of things that has contempt for Windows-style directories (Picasa seems designed to compete with Apple’s iPhoto).

    The problem is that I already have my own date-based categorization system, in which the images from each roll of film or digital photo session are stored in subdirectories under a higher-level directory that’s named according to the date the photos were made. For example, photos made April 12 are stored in subdirectories named “hi-res scans” and “edited versions”, in the directory “20050412″, which is itself located in the higher-level directory “2005″. I think my categorization system makes a lot of sense, since it’s much easier to manage than if I had to label every photo (there are thousands) or manually import it into an album (as in iPhoto). Dates correspond to events in my life and are usually the easiest points of reference when it comes to finding a particular image. Labeling is a nuisance, and would force me not only to create numerous categories but also to go back and add category labels to older photos every time I added a new category. Too much trouble. Only the lowest common denominator of labeling is going to work for me, and that means dates. But Picasa recognizes only the lowest-level directories in my hierarchy, so instead of displaying a simple hierarchy of directories in the form “\YYYY\YYYYMMDD-X”, which I can very quickly navigate and drill down into, I see a jumble of the identically named low-level subdirectories (“hi-res scans” and “edited versions”) that contain the actual image files. This is silly. There ought to be an option to view image files in conventional, Windows-style directory hierarchies. It’s an easy fix if Google decides to do it, and I hope that they will.

    Other than these quibbles, Picasa is really quite good, and that’s partly due to its stickiness. What makes it sticky is its seamless integration with email, particularly Google’s Gmail service, and here Google was extremely clever. It understood how much utility could be gained by making it easier to email photos. Before Picasa, when I wanted to send a photo, I had to first open the photo in Photoshop, then edit it to reduce its size, then I had to save the edited file and remember where on my HD I saved it, then I had to create, address and title a new message using my email program, then I had to find the photo file on my HD and attach it to my email message before I could send it. With Picasa, I select a photo, click “Email”, click “Sign in” (for the first photo sent), specify an address and click “Send” — that’s it. This process works particularly well with Gmail because Gmail gives you a lot of storage space; you don’t have to worry about your email server filling up with bulky jpegs. My threshold for emailing photos is now much lower than it was previously.

    When I started using Picasa it seemed like OK software, but then Incognito sent me a Gmail invite. Soon we were exchanging photos (and sending Gmail invitations to third parties), and I was using both Picasa and Gmail a lot more than I had initially intended. This is a winning system. Google stands to make a lot of money from it because of the context-sensitive ads it embeds in the emails, so I suspect they will continue to improve it.

    Posted in Tech | 8 Comments »

    Burchill on Thatcher

    Posted by Lexington Green on 30th April 2005 (All posts by )

    I have always loved Julie Burchill. There is nothing remotely like her mix of sentimental Bolshevism, working class cultural nostalgia, British patriotism and militarism, Judaeophilia, loathing of Germany and (usually) America, detestation of the British upper classes, personal libertinism combined with a hardnosed understanding of the consequences of such behavior, and her devotion to sixties-era British hipness and seventies punk rock. She is often wildly wrong, but always entertaining.

    This recent piece on the upcoming UK election is nicely done. Ms. Burchill offers this beautiful passage about the impact of Margaret Thatcher, whom she depicts as a one-woman whirlwind of pent-up creative destruction:

    [A]s some smart-aleck said, we must change or perish. And who should break our long postwar consensual slumber — not with a snog but with a short sharp smack around the head with a handbag and a cry of “Look smart!” — but the Iron Lady herself.

    Mrs Thatcher meant, and still means, many things — some of which she is not yet aware of herself, as we are not. Only death brings proper perspective to the triumphs and failures of a political career; it is only with the blank look and full stop of death that that old truism “all political careers end in failure” stops being true. Only a terminally smug liberal would still write her off as an uptight bundle of Little Englandisms, seeking to preserve the old order, however hard she worked that look at first; voting for her was something akin to buying what one thought was a Vera Lynn record, getting it home and finding a Sex Pistols single inside.

    She was just as much about revolution as reaction, and part of any revolution is destruction. Some of the things she destroyed seemed like a shame at the time, such as the old industries — though on balance, isn’t there anything good about the fact that thousands of young men who once simply because of who their fathers were would have been condemned to a life spent underground in the darkness, and an early death coughing up bits of lung, now won’t be? It’s interesting to note that while some middle and even upper-class people choose to go into “low” jobs — journalist, actor, sportsman, plumber — which pay well and/or are a good laugh, no one ever went out of their way to become a miner. “Dogs are bred to retrieve birds and Welshman to go down mines,” said some vile old-school Tory; not any more they’re not, thanks to Mrs T.

    Her appetite for destruction was more often than not spot-on. Mrs Thatcher was hated by the old Tory establishment because she, more than any Labour leader, brought down the culture of deference, of knowing one’s place. This led to the very British cultural social comedy of left-wing poshos such as the Foots being outraged by the upstart, while outsiders who should on paper have been Labour voters recognised her as one of them.

    One of my younger friends, a very angry, talented, Anglo-Punjabi man of profoundly working-class origin, remembers as a child crying inconsolably for days when Mrs Thatcher was unseated by her own party. It says it all that the Queen far preferred the company of the Labour Prime Ministers Wilson and Callaghan than she did the Conservative Thatcher; the Queen could smell the lack of respect on Mrs T, and it put her back up no end.

    As to the current election, Ms. B. sees no hope of a “Mad Outsider” candidate akin to Thatcher. It won’t be Blair:

    How weird is Blair? Not weird enough for me, though obviously too weird for some. I shall vote for him because he has banned foxhunting, and because he took us into a just war against a vile dictatorship; I’d be hoping for a few more of those during the next term, which I suppose makes me one weird woman voter, obsessed as we are meant to be with peace, childcare and fluffy bunnies. On the other hand, I find the current Labour cultural cringe towards Islam — to “make up” for the war, as if Saddam Hussein hadn’t single-handedly been responsible for the deaths of more Muslim people than the entire British and American armed forces put together! — extremely offensive, as a woman.

    Hoping for a few more of those! I doubt it. Tony has had a political near-death experience as it is. But the sentiment is appreciated.

    Posted in Anglosphere | 2 Comments »

    Saigon: 30

    Posted by Lexington Green on 30th April 2005 (All posts by )

    The Vietnamese communists won their long, hard, cruel, bloody war thirty years ago today. The United States suffered its most humiliating defeat. Hundreds of thousands of Americans had fought, and tens of thousands of Americans had died, for a failed cause. These Americans had been ordered to kill, and they had killed millions in that same failed cause. They had been betrayed by their government and their commanders and by the people who supported their enemies, and by those who shunned them or despised them upon their return.

    The Cold War, a real war, a war we could have lost, was at its nadir.

    I remember the day. I was 12. My mother cried. The American leftists on TV cheered and put their fists in the air. They were smug. This was their victory, too.

    The fall of Saigon is not an event in the distant past. It is not yet history. It was yesterday. It is part of now.

    I tried repeatedly over the last few days to type up a coherent and thoughtful and analytic post on this topic. But after three tries I am giving up. All I do is type an angry rambling rant and elevate my pulse rate.

    It is bad to hate. But as I contemplate this day, and what it meant, and how and why it happened, and those who want it to happen again, that is the only emotion I feel.

    Posted in History | 5 Comments »

    “Trust is not a calculation”

    Posted by Jonathan on 29th April 2005 (All posts by )

    I agree with Jeff Jarvis on this point. I wrote the following in a comment to Jeff’s post:

    The “don’t be evil” slogan is either naive or disingenuous on Google’s part, because it’s based on a presumption that concentrated power can be managed by good intentions. Historically this proposition has rarely if ever been true. What really keeps power in check is accountability based on competition and openness. Google has competitors but the essence of Google’s position on openness is, “trust us.”

    This is also the problem with Google’s TrustRank scheme. Rather than merely evaluate the trustworthiness of news providers on a case-by-case basis, as we do now, under TrustRank customers would also have to evaluate Google’s judgment in deciding which news sources are trustworthy. This might make sense for customers who share Google management’s biases but for everyone else it’s a burden.

    Google is a network company par excellence. It knows how to add value by maximizing network opportunities for content providers. Where Google stumbles is in trying to add value by providing or managing content according to its own values hierarchy.

    From what I can infer, Google’s TrustRank system is mainly a branding scheme — in this case, the brand is based on an automated method for vetting content according to Google management’s preferences. It sounds like NPR without the overhead. There’s nothing wrong with that but it isn’t special either. All news aggregators impose their biases to some extent, because they have to decide what’s news and what isn’t. Google’s proposal, if it is what it appears to be, amounts to another aggregation scheme, but one overlain with hubris about what used to be called “scientific methods” — i.e., the idea that by mechanizing selection rules one can remove human bias. It will be interesting to see what emerges — if Google actually implements the TrustRank concept — and how it fares in the marketplace.

    UPDATE: Read Tim Oren’s comment on Jeff’s post for another view.

    UPDATE2: Tim Oren’s second comment adds more reasons to be skeptical about the validity of my concerns.

    Posted in Business | Comments Off

    C-SPAN 1 & 2 (times e.t.)

    Posted by Ginny on 29th April 2005 (All posts by )

    Book TV Schedule. After Words and Q&A. On C-SPAN 1, Lamb Q[uestions] & Charles Krauthammer A[nswers] (8:00 p.m. and again 11:00). (Krauthammer is, of course, the speaker of the “Quote of the Day” Lex put up Friday. Krauthammer, originally trained as a psychiatrist,

    writes a syndicated column for the Washington Post that appears in over 150 newspapers worldwide. He is also a monthly essayist for TIME magazine, a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and The New Republic, a political analyst for FOX News and a weekly panelist on Inside Washington. He coined and developed The Reagan Doctrine (TIME, April 1985), defined the structure of the post-Cold War world in The Unipolar Moment (Foreign Affairs, 1990/1991), and outlined the principles of post-9/11 American foreign policy in his much-debated Irving Kristol Lecture, Democratic Realism (AEI Press, March 2004).

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Schedules | Comments Off

    Coping with Modernity – Leftism and Islamism

    Posted by demimasque on 29th April 2005 (All posts by )

    From the beginnings of the steam engine in Scotland, to the semiconductor fabrication plants in California, human history over the last three hundred years has witnessed the unfolding of an inexorable trend and veritable explosion of material progress. The end of the Eighteenth Century saw the rise of portable firearms and the resulting obsolescense of traditional European set piece warfare; the discovery of the nature of electricity; and the development of the steam engine. The end of the Nineteenth Century witnessed the birth of mechanized warfare, conceived in the Crimean War, born in the fires of the American Civil War, nurtured through the Franco-Prussian War, and imitated in the Sino-Japanese War; the harnessing of electricity by the Wizard of Menlo Park; the development of the internal combustion engine; the rise of Darwinism as an explanation for natural history; and the building of an ever more sophisticated telecommunications network. By the end of the Twentieth Century, nuclear weapons were the ultimate military status symbols; electricity is taken for granted even in developing nations; gas engines were becoming hybridized with electric motors; the Human Genome Project was nearly completed; and the Internet was already old enough to drink, even in the United States, and web logs were already laying their seeds.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Political Philosophy | 1 Comment »

    The problems of the culture

    Posted by ken on 29th April 2005 (All posts by )

    Social conservatives have a good point. They note that the laws and social conventions of a society have far-reaching effects across the society, and ultimately determine whether that society thrives, stagnates, or crumbles.

    Unfortunately, they usually spend nearly all of their time talking about sexual rules and customs. While sex is endlessly fascinating, there are other rules of our culture that are at least as important and more urgently in need of repair.

    One of the most unfortunate cultural rules we’re burdened with is this one: it is absolutely unconscionable in our compassionate society to allow someone to hurt himself. This rule has enormous costs – the continued existence of Social Security to the present day can be traced to it (you can’t let people neglect to save and then be unable to retire or pay their bills after they can’t work), as well as our problems with the cost and quality of medical care (since people mustn’t be allowed to hurt themselves with medical treatment or devices, a large and expensive infrastructure has been built for the express purpose of preventing people from being treated without permission and close supervision), as well as the continued use of the groundcar, the War on Drugs, grade inflation (if we can’t stop people from earning failing grades, we’ll just have to stop flunking them instead), the shakedown of the cigarette makers and the associated advertising ban, a large and growing body of product liability judgements, and much, much more.

    If you rule out the possibility of letting people hurt themselves, your only alternatives are to use force to stop them (and use force against other people who help them or even fail to stop them) or to bail them out (with money provided at taxpayer expense, or unearned credentials at the expense of those who can actually earn them but can no longer prove it). The former causes restrictions to multiply out of control, while the latter guarantees the continuation of self-destructive behavior and causes costs to multiply out of control. While restrictions may prevent one form of avoidable suffering, they also restrict the ability of people to solve their own problems and avoid other forms of avoidable suffering; for instance, when doctors are given 25 year sentences for insufficiently restricting the use of pain medication, people with severe pain are deprived of the best available tool for solving it, and must either live with the pain or commit suicide or become criminals to get rid of it. But according to our rules, these people’s suffering is an acceptable price to pay to prevent other people from enduring entirely self-inflicted suffering.

    As long as this rule is ingrained in our culture, effective solutions to our worst problems will be politically infeasible, and politically feasible solutions will be ineffective or destructive. The free market is a wonderful tool for solving problems, but it only works well when people are left to use their own judgement and their own resources to acquire the best available solutions to their own problems, and reap the benefits and bear the costs.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments »

    Quote of the Day

    Posted by Lexington Green on 29th April 2005 (All posts by )

    “[C]onservatives tend to believe that the world is going to Hell, and that tends to make them grumpy.”

    Charles Krauthammer

    (From this good essay about the not grumpy Irving Kristol, on the occasion of the final issue of The Public Interest. While I’m at it, here is Kristol’s very enlightening history of American conservatism 1945-1995.)

    Posted in Quotations | Comments Off

    Offshoring Jobs – Literally

    Posted by In-Cog-Nito on 28th April 2005 (All posts by )

    Here’s an interesting twist on offshoring jobs: buy an old cruise ship, park it in international waters 3 miles off Los Angeles, and fill it with programmers. Very smart in terms of circumventing H1B visas. India without the travel time. Outsourcing opponents will have a fit with this one. But in terms of logistical intelligence, it’s brilliant if they can pull it off. The article cites $10 million as their target price for an old cruise ship, which seems a bit low. Gotta love the free market.

    Via Slashdot

    Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

    Having Babies and Having Socialized Health Care

    Posted by James R. Rummel on 28th April 2005 (All posts by )

    It’s been my experience that most people who favor a form of universal, government controlled health care have extremely unrealistic expectations. They want unlimited resources to be available to everyone, at any time, no matter the cost.

    This subject was recently explored by Susanna at A Cut on the Bias. The subject of her short post was a proposal by the Australian government to limit in vitro fertilization treatments to 3 tries per couple. Any further attempts would have to be funded by the couple themselves.

    That seems perfectly reasonable to me, at least so far as any government controlled health care plan can be said to be reasonable. But Deb over at Accidental Verbosity doesn‘t see it that way.

    Deb details the resource-intensive care that she received during her pregnancy, and she argues that since the care allocated to a healthy fetus shouldn’t be rationed then the procedures to create such a fetus also shouldn’t be rationed.

    Deb makes a good case as long as you accept the base she’s using to build her arguments: that unlimited care is too valuable and politically sensitive to ration. The only problem is that this is a straw man.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Uncategorized | 14 Comments »

    Blog Verse

    Posted by Jonathan on 28th April 2005 (All posts by )

    An anthem for our times.

    Posted in Humor | 1 Comment »

    Connectivity

    Posted by Jonathan on 28th April 2005 (All posts by )

    Lex found the following image here.

    He posits a quiz question: Can you identify Core, Gap, Emerging Core from this graphic alone?

    Posted in Society | 6 Comments »

    Sullivan’s Rhetoric

    Posted by Ginny on 28th April 2005 (All posts by )

    I would not be writing on Chicagoboyz if somewhere along the line I hadn’t heard about Andrew Sullivan, then started reading him on a regular basis. He sent me erratically to Instapundit. And Reynolds brought me to Chicagoboyz. This is the trajectory that found me in a place where I feel remarkably comfortable; for the first time in my life I’m forced to give some order to my musings. I am grateful – to the Chicagoboyz and, therefore, to Sullivan. I admired his work; I teach his essay on “coming of age” as a homosexual. It with clarity and wit emphasizes the biological, the innate nature of his preferences – preferences he didn’t understand at first. I pair it with Scott Russell Sanders’ “Looking at Women,” an essay about Sanders’ growing awareness of the “otherness” of women moving to a joyous tribute to the relation between opposites, a man and a woman. It is easy to treat both essays with respect – and my students do. Sullivan’s award-winning essay, “The ‘He’ Hormone” also emphasizes the influence of the biological.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Blogging | 10 Comments »

    Confrontation at the LA Times Book Festival (etc.)

    Posted by Lexington Green on 26th April 2005 (All posts by )

    I got an excellent email from a friend of mine out in LA, which touches on issues of interest to our readers, which he has permitted me to share with you.

    Over the weekend, I went to the LA Times Book Festival-a huge event with authors shilling books in lectures, panels, and readings. It’s not as good as the Chicago Humanities Festival, but not bad. I avoided some panels on current events and attended others, with mixed results. On one panel I heard Andrew Bacevich, Stephen Cohen, and Ross Terrill. These were well-informed and thoughtful people, and as a result they spoke in reasoned and measured ways, yet with clear ideas. Bacevich was particularly impressive. His view is that America is over reliant on military power as the central element in its foreign policy. There are several reasons why this came about: it is widely believed that the Soviet Union collapsed because of US military advances and pressures; and in the immediate wake of that collapse, the Gulf War led Americans to believe that we had such overwhelming military power that we could now meet any threat. Our dominance in the world, he argues, is no accident thrust upon us by the collapse of rivals and the emergence of external dangers; it is a deliberate process to protect our way of life. The core of that way of life is freedom, but each individual is left to define freedom for himself. In practice, this means that our common ground is material abundance, and we elect our leaders to assure a dominance in the world that will preserve and increase our material abundance. In pursuit of this policy, however, we have come to be excessively reliant on military power. Bacevich is a former military man, and his analysis is not intended as a liberal diatribe but as a sober conservative estimate.

    Ross Terrill had excellent and nuanced things to say about China, including that it is not a real threat. The Chinese are an empire in a fairly traditional mold patterned on their history. This includes the subjugation of western regions of China that are not Chinese. In the world, they are pursuing a mainly defensive strategy, making sure that nothing happens that is inimical to their interests. Their huge trade surplus with the United States is not a real worry, because it is in their interests to continue it, not to use it as an instrument of a more or less pointless confrontation. He actually foresees a lengthy period in which the United States and China are likely to have rather cooperative relations. Cohen paints a hair-raising picture of instability in the former Soviet Union and argues forcefully that American policy has made all the wrong moves, increasing instability and dangers in that area. It is a mistake to think the Russians have no options; they have many opportunities to cause mischief and are increasingly in a situation that encourages them to do so. In this brief compass, I can’t do justice to the speakers, but they certainly made compelling points.

    A later panel was the usual left / right setup on the question, “Is the World Safer for Democracy?” The audience is overwhelmingly extremely liberal, not to say outright leftist. Hence, the man you know who is the editor of the Claremont Review didn’t get much of a hearing, though he made some good points. David Rieff argued that we’re too willing to use war as a solution to problems. He conceded that as a reporter in Sarajevo, he had supported the use of force and he still insists that both neo-conservatives and human rights activists are in a strange alliance to use force for lofty motives. But he’s increasingly skeptical about it. Otherwise, we got some clichéd positions.

    The highlight, however, was a question from a Marine sergeant who asked the most left member of the panel what her qualifications were for saying the Iraq venture was a failure. She prudently responded by asking him what his experience was, and in concise and articulate terms he said that most of the people-and he had been in the Falloujah fight-appreciated what the US forces were doing. She then asked him how he responded to the numbers of troops who were objecting to the war. If she thought she had him, she was quite mistaken. He commented that most of them were not combat or front-line troops. As a result, they suffered all the problems of a tour of duty-separation from family, home, jobs, etc.-but didn’t get close enough to the situation to receive the thanks and appreciation of the people they were helping. His comments posed a serious dilemma for the crowd. They wanted to applaud him to show that they really supported the troops and it was that monster Bush who was putting them in harm’s way (“Support our troops-bring them home” line) but he was a distressingly articulate and directly informed advocate of the current policy. The crowd contented themselves with shouting down the conservative from Claremont.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters | 24 Comments »

    Or we can embrace provincialism again…

    Posted by ken on 26th April 2005 (All posts by )

    My preferred solution to Peak Oil is to embrace other known, proven high-energy technologies and keep our sputtering drive to the stars from stalling out completely.

    Others advocate a different approach.

    Apparently for some, an energy shortage is the perfect opportunity to force us to embrace the lifestyle they’ve been preaching all along, which can be summed up as “get those damned serfs back on the manor where they belong!”

    You think I exaggerate? Let’s go down his list:
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Uncategorized | 27 Comments »

    Nuclear power

    Posted by ken on 26th April 2005 (All posts by )

    What difference does it make if Yucca Mountain leaks waste in 1000 years, or even 100 years?

    Seriously. Not that it’s at all likely to, but so what if it does?

    There are two possible scenarios. Either we’ll continue advancing, and this planet’s entire population (much less the Yucca Mountain area) will be a minority of the human race in 3005, or we’ll stagnate, and then revert to savagery when our fuel runs out, in which case there won’t be very many people living in the desert and the human population as a whole will have much, much bigger problems than a bit of radioactive waste in an environment that most of them won’t be able to go anywhere near without dying of thirst.

    Anything that maximizes the odds of the first scenario coming to pass, and minimizes the odds of the second, is worth doing at just about any cost. Including radioactive waste in Yucca Mountain, and even including leaking radioactive waste in Yucca Mountain.

    After Peak Oil, nuclear power is our only hope of not reverting to the worst aspects of the 19th Century (you know, the horse-and-buggy level of energy and industry and technology that caused all the misery that the spectacularly successful laissez-faire economic policy keeps getting the blame for). With a sensible (i.e., much lower and stable, particularly with respect to plants already under construction!) level of regulation on the nuclear power industry, the risk associated with possible meltdown is still impressively low; our plants would have to be many, many orders of magnitude more shoddily built to duplicate the Chernobyl plant, and even with that sort of disaster happening occasionally, which it wouldn’t with any nuclear plants we’re ever going to build, we’re still bearing far less overall risk than we would be running out of oil with no large-scale replacement available.

    Of course, any high-density terrestrial energy source is only a stopgap to get us to space so we can use the abundant energy found there. If we screw around until every form of stored energy here is used up, then we’ll be stuck forevermore using energy at a lower rate than it arrives from the sun, which as far as I can tell would leave us stranded on this damned rock until the Sun swallows it whole, or until someone manages to produce antimatter or a fusion generator using only the infrastructure that can be built and operated in such a low energy environment, which may amount to the same thing.

    There is no such thing as perfectly safe. Every course we take has risks, and the one with the lowest overall risk involves nuclear power, and lots of it.

    What about automotive fuel and fertilizer? How are we going to replace that with nuclear power?

    Chemical synthesis, powered by nuclear reactors. There are several schemes for getting fuel from corn, organic waste, and so forth, that show little energy profit. Hook up a nuke plant, and even fuel processes that show a loss would, in effect, ship nuclear power to cars and cargo vehicles. Nuclear plants dedicated to this process can run at constant load as cheaply as physically possible, without dealing with continuously variable load. Given cheap enough energy and high enough demand, nuclear powered synthesis of everything we’re getting from oil should do the trick.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 16 Comments »

    Rolling In It

    Posted by James R. Rummel on 26th April 2005 (All posts by )

    I was just reading this news item, which discusses the provisions that various emergency agencies have set up in order to take care of animals during disasters.

    This is certainly nothing new, and it’s eminently practical since livestock are a major form of agricultural assets. Protecting farm animals against needless death is a way for the state governments to protect their tax base.

    But people are taking steps beyond moving cows or horses out of harms way. Emergency shelters for people are now preparing to meet the needs of pets as well as their owners.

    Megan McArdle says that it’s very difficult to declare yourself wealthy because the goalposts keep retreating as you move up the income ladder. That’s certainly true, but I think that I’ve found an indicator of the relative wealth of the nation as a whole.

    Posted in Economics & Finance | 5 Comments »

    Lisa Marr: Learning How to Fail

    Posted by Lexington Green on 25th April 2005 (All posts by )

    Lisa Marr has been a recurring focus of praise from moi in this space, e.g. here and here and here. (Perhaps one of these days I will write a long-threatened post analyzing and explaining why she is one of the great musical voices of the age. But for now, take my word for it.)

    The most recent major work we had from her, however, was not a collection of gem-like pop songs — my not so secret wish — but a neat little movie called Learning How to Fail. Miss Marr has begun devoting a lot of time and energy to film-making lately. She explains here how this film came about. She was finding that scaling the musical mountain was working less and less well for her. Things took a particularly ugly turn in 2003. She was finally going to get her band The Lisa Marr Experiment, on the road for a national tour, but the guy who was supposed to be booking the shows had botched it and lied about it, and the tour couldn’t happen.

    But, rather than mope, the plucky Canadian songbird decided to make the most of it. As she tells it:

    I had time off, I had recently acquired a beat-up ’63 Gibson acoustic and a mini-DV camera; I had a box of records, a bag of t-shirts, a trusty ’88 Toyota Corolla hatchback and a ferocious case of wanderlust. Why not just hit the road by myself, play music in random public places and interview the folks I encountered along the way about their notions of success and failure while I tried to sort out my own feelings on the topic. I’d call it the Learning How To Fail Tour. And that’s exactly what I did.

    I had friends willing to put me up in Las Vegas, Albuquerque, Brooklyn, Detroit, Chicago and Denver so my route was a giant game of connect the dots. In between, I slept in my car. Every day I’d set out and stop whenever a place caught my fancy. I’d find a suitable location (a park, a shopping center, a laundromat, a street corner, a truck stop, a bowling alley, a tavern, a tourist trap….), set up the camera and start playing. I had a little sign on my guitar case explaining what I was doing. Folks would amble up… sometimes they’d throw me a little bit of money but mostly we’d get to talking… The question “What is the definition of success?” was a window into all kinds of really amazing discussions about happiness, money, work, divorce, ambition, love and heartache, cancer, suicide, politics, music, family, travel… you name it. People responded with a kindness and generosity I couldn’t have imagined. Everyone wished me well and helped me in whatever way they could. Not once did I feel threatened or afraid. The whole experience restored my faith in making art and reminded me of why I’d been driven to make music in the first place: not money, not fame, but simply to connect with people. Process not product. Hokey, but true.

    The film is a document of this tour. We see but don’t hear Miss Marr playing. Instead we hear the voices of lots of people holding forth with some surprisingly touching responses to the question: What is the definition of success? Full disclosure: Some voices near and dear to me can be heard in the film. But, that aside, it is a nicely done piece of work. It is handsomely packaged, with a bonus cd of a live acoustic appearance on a radio station, which has pleasant if rough-hewn versions of several of her songs. You can go here for a short version of the film (scroll to the bottom). Go here to buy it directly from her.

    I will confess that I pine for a brand new, full-blown, fully produced, fully instrumented album from Miss Marr. She updates the news page on her website pretty much every month, and these posts are amusing and informative. The sense you get is that she is enjoying herself with a lot of one-shot projects (like a Buck reunion show) and film-related stuff, and playing out mainly as “The Here and Now”, which has the minimalist format of her on accoustic guitar and a rather dashingly piratical looking bearded gentleman on drums. Which is all fine. The stars may all come ’round right and we may one day get an album from her in the same league as, say, “Pet Sounds” or “Mr. Tambourine Man” – which I actually think is possible. But if these Olympian heights are never reached, all is still well. We will nonetheless, I am sure, be blessed with a continual outpouring of worthy new musical projects from the irrepressible Miss Marr.

    In the meantime, I can also strongly recommend The Spring Demo Collection, which you can buy here. It is Miss Marr and a guitar, no overdubs, no nothin’, just the songs, unvarnished. But her singing is very sincere and beautiful and all the songs are good and a few are brilliant. Also, check out the group of free songs here, to get some idea what I am going on and on about.

    Posted in Music | 2 Comments »

    New Socialist Man, Chicago Style

    Posted by TM Lutas on 25th April 2005 (All posts by )

    My wife and I were tooling around Bolingbrook, IL looking for a place for her new medical practice (to open shortly after a space is leased, more about that later) when we saw him. He was a government worker, pulling down christmas tree lights that had been put up on the corner of I-55 & IL-53 and with us stuck at a red light, he was our temporary entertainment.

    Yank those lights! Rip that branch! One string that was serpentined across the front came down. A second string proved more challenging for our public servant as it was actually wrapped around the tree. After a brutal tug shook the entire tree, confirming that he would have to circle around the tree to take it off, he proved his membership in the vast collective of New Socialist Man. Rather than walk around the tree, he cut the wires.

    My wife and I looked at each other in shared disgust. We didn’t have to say it. Our mutual look said it all. We talked about it anyway.

    Any East European admiration for efficient US government is entirely misplaced. It really is true that there is zero difference among government workers across the world. They’re all New Socialist Men, at least on the job. Waste is their watchword, sloth is their middle name, and carelessness with other people’s money is their reality.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments »

    Berlin is Encircled, the Allies meet at Torgau: 60

    Posted by Lexington Green on 25th April 2005 (All posts by )

    On April 25, 1945 “[t]he 1st Belarussian Front [Zhukov] … linked up with the 1st Ukrainian Front [Koniev] troops northwest of Potsdam, having completed the encirclement of Berlin.” The lid on the kessel was slammed closed. The same day, the desperate and hopeless relief attack by III Panzerkorps under Steiner, which Hitler was dreaming would save him, ground to a halt 50 miles from Berlin. The days of successful German offensives were long over.

    The final offensive had begun on 16 April. “Zhukov’s 1st Byelorussian Front attacked at 05.00 on the 16th April and Koniev’s 1st Ukrainian Front at 06.15.” Stalin had set the two commanders in a race to Berlin. The Soviets had ten thousand cannon, one for every four meters of front, 6,300 tanks and 8,500 aircraft committed to the attack. Still, because the Soviets had failed to correctly identify the dug-in and camouflaged defensive line along the Seelowe heights, the Germans were able, for a time, to halt the juggernaut. The end was not in doubt, because the Soviets were willing to pay the blood-price to take Berlin street by street, house by house, room by room. The Soviets lost 300,000 men in the battle, roughly what the United States lost in the entire war. Upon winning, the Red Army troops subjected the conquered population to a reign of rape and brutality reminiscent of the Mongols — and similar to what the Germans had inflicted on the Soviet peoples when the boot was on the other foot.

    Meanwhile, on the same day, April 25, 1945 American troops from Ninth Army and the Soviet 1st Ukrainian Front famously joined hands at Torgau on the Elbe, 100 miles Southwest of Berlin. Germany was being carved into pieces.

    And on April 25 German U-boats sink 5 Allied supply ships in the English Channel.

    The Germans did not give up when they were clearly beaten. They kept killing people long after there was any hope of victory. They did not do a rational cost-benefit analysis. They were good at fighting, it was what they knew how to do, and they believed their own racist lies about their supposed superiority. The only way they could be stopped was by battering them to the ground, so that anyone who was conscious would see it was over, so that they were so crushed that they were rendered physically incapable of killing anymore. That is what it took to achieve victory. No half-measures would have worked with these people. That is how it is sometimes.

    As to the Soviets, we can and should recognize and respect the extraordinary achievement of the soldiers of the Red Army, without unduly glorifying them, without making excuses for their crimes, and with no illusions about the evil of the regime they served and saved. There is too little recognition of what they accomplished, in the face of a murderous, even psychotic enemy, ruled by a regime almost as bad. We in the West should be grateful that they did so much of the hard work to defeat the Third Reich, a fact the Cold War and a history seen through Western and German eyes did too much to obscure. Recent scholarship, especially that of David M. Glantz (e.g. here and books available on Amazon) and the appearance of memoirs (e.g. here, and this and this) are doing much to change this, to create a more balanced view, and to fill in the details of a vast and too little understood part of the Second World War.

    (Sources: Here and here and here and here and here.)

    Posted in History | 28 Comments »

    What is the Dragon Thinking?

    Posted by Lexington Green on 24th April 2005 (All posts by )

    One of the topics we keep going back and forth about is Taiwan and China and the Chinese military and what-the-Hell-is-China-up-to. I rely on StrategyPage for much of my news on this topic. For example, this recent post gave an interesting short overview of China’s current military buildup. It starts out by asserting: “China’s armed forces are undergoing a massive transformation. All of it seems directed at giving China the ability to take Taiwan by forces.” I can take that or leave it, but I have no way to confirm myself if that assessment is correct. It is consistent with my understanding and beliefs, but so are a lot of assessments which are wrong.

    The most critical problems we have is the dearth of English language translations of the Chinese military material. This StrategyPage post, entitled The Warmongering Chinese Colonels , starts thus:

    It’s difficult to tell exactly what military plans the Chinese leadership is cooking up. A major reason for this murkiness is the very lively, relatively censorship–free military press in China. This is something they borrowed from the late Soviet Union (where similar free-thinking constantly befuddled American Soviet-watchers throughout the Cold War). In China, as long as you don’t criticize the leadership or the party, military professional can pretty much say what they want about military matters.

    I have seen numerous references to this lively Chinese military press. It would be good if there were a publicly available source of recent translations. Presumably people inside the military have access to it. But the public debate would be better informed if more of this material were available. (This 2001 run-down, entitled China’s Military Strategy Toward the U.S.A View From Open Sources , looks pretty interesting.)

    One commonly cited work is Unrestricted Warfare by Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, the aforementioned warmongering colonels. This is available online, as well as in a very alarmingly packaged paperback edition,. I read this short book. It struck me as a “think piece” and not a statement of doctrine. I even wondered if the assertions in it about the effectiveness of helicopters, rebutted in practice in Operation Iraqi Freedom, were not disinformation directed at the United States. Nonetheless, it is cited by Thomas X. Hammes in his excellent book The Sling and the Stone. (An essay by Hammes synopsizing the book is here.) So while the book cannot be dismissed out of hand, it is at best one bit of evidence about what the Dragon may be thinking.

    More substantive-seeming books do exist. But not in English. I have seen several references in journal articles to a book on current Chinese military doctrine. For example, “Tracking China’s Security Relations: Causes for Optimism and Pessimism” Thomas J. Christensen, China Leadership Monitor, No.1., n. 23, had this reference:

    The book on doctrine is Lt. General Wang Houqing, and Maj. General Zhang Xingye, eds. Zhanyi Xue [Military Campaign Studies] (Beijing: National Defense University Press, May 2000) (military circulation only). The book is available at Harvard’s Fairbank Center library … .

    I contacted this library. The book is only available in Chinese. Blast.

    While we are waiting for the translation, this review essay from the current Parameters, entitled Is there a Chinese Way of War? will have to hold us. The author concludes with these broad-stroke conclusions:

    So, is there a Chinese way of war? This question cannot be answered definitively in this short essay. But these books under review suggest there is a distinct set of characteristics that guide how China’s strategic thinkers approach matters of war and strategy. First, geopolitical criteria rather than operational performance provide the primary basis for evaluating military success. Second, while serious thought and calculation appear to go into determining when and how military power is to be used, Chinese strategists do not demonstrate much reluctance to use force. Indeed they are prone to significant, albeit calculated, risk-taking. Third, when employing military power, the emphasis is on Chinese forces seizing and maintaining the operational initiative. Fourth, it is imperative that China leverage modern technology to gain the edge in any conflict.

    That bit about risk-taking behavior is believable. The intervention in Korea being a compelling bit of evidence.

    Also, nosing around, I found this article, translated from Chinese, entitled The Worrisome Situation of the South China Sea – China Facing the Stepped-up Military Infiltration by the U.S., Japan and India. The source is Outlook East Weekly [Liaowang Dongfang Zhoukan], January 12, 2004, linking to http://army.tom.com. Query: Does anybody read Chinese? What is this page? Is it in any way an official publication? (Via, after digging past a defective link via Google, the U.S. China Commission website.)

    The Chinese viewpoint expressed here is one of worry and fear of encirclement and an eroding position in the South China Sea. It refers to China’s claims to the “disputed regions of Spratly, Paracel (Xisha) and Huangyan Islands.” It notes continuing opposition from the local countries involved (Vietnam, The Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia):

    [T]he relevant countries have kept up their political and diplomatic offensives against China, with regard to China’s claim of sovereignty in the South China Sea. To maintain their existing interests in the South China Sea, they have strengthened military control over occupied islands, islets and other waters, and have stepped up exploration and exploitation activities with the natural resources in the region.

    It is funny in a way to see China concerned about the aggression of Brunei. But everybody views the world from their own desk. The article goes on to note also that the problem is not localized:

    At the same time, world powers such as the U.S., Japan and India have increased their military infiltration in the South China Sea regions, pushing the issue towards a more complicated and internationalized level. The situation allows no room for optimism.

    It is noteworthy that this view precedes the recent strengthening of military ties between the United States and Japan and India, discussed here and here. The article goes on:

    The U.S. is a super power that is seen to have been involved most extensively in the South China Sea affairs. Analysts believe that the US is the “behind-the-scenes” instigator of the South China Sea disputes. The issue of the South China Sea has become a new focal point in the U.S. overall strategic defense policy aimed at guarding against and containing China.

    The Chinese author of this piece sees the United States as being behind the scenes in all these problems. Maybe so. But the possibility that the small countries in the area may have legitimate claims to these territories, remote from China, is not taken seriously.

    It appears that the Dragon is thinking that the United States and other countries are ganging up on it, and that it is no fault of its own that this is happening. The Dragon also appears to be modernizing its military, making it smaller and more technologically advanced. It has also shown a historical predilection to high-risk use of force. Meanwhile, the disorder inside the country threatens the existence of the Communist Party’s rule, perhaps foreshadowing a revolution. This can be channeled into anti-Japanese riots for now, and perhaps in other ways tomorrow. But the domestic problems won’t go away, and a foreign war may appear to be a way to channel domestic irritation away from the ruling elite. A strong military presence and system of alliances in the region, led by the United States, will be needed to deter the Chinese leadership from taking that course when all other avenues seem closed.

    The “containment” which is needed will be to keep China’s internal turmoil localized, while it makes the painful and (I fear) violent transition to post-communist rule.

    All in all, this is a good time to keep our powder dry.

    (Incidentally, China’s immense problems make me dubious about any immediately upcoming “Chinese Century”. They need to get over the hurdle of establishing law-abiding and orderly and accountable government, or they are not going to be able to continue to grow at a breakneck pace. I could be wrong, of course. An authoritarian China may yet dominate the world. But that seems to me unlikely for reasons which I’ll have to reserve for another post.)

    UPDATE: wretchard pointed out this excellent blog about China entitled Naruwan Formosa. Check it out.

    Posted in China | 33 Comments »

    Prediction-Markets Portal

    Posted by Jonathan on 22nd April 2005 (All posts by )

    Chris Masse has a helpful “vertical portal to prediction markets” that I have permalinked.

    Posted in Markets and Trading | 1 Comment »

    Za Rodina

    Posted by In-Cog-Nito on 22nd April 2005 (All posts by )

    Photo origin unknown, source: ww2.boom.ru

    Posted in War and Peace | 5 Comments »

    C-SPAN 1 & 2 (times e.t.)

    Posted by Ginny on 22nd April 2005 (All posts by )

    Book TV Schedule. C-SPAN 1 schedule. This week’s After Words and Q&A.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Schedules | Comments Off

    Review – Bennett

    Posted by Ginny on 22nd April 2005 (All posts by )

    A favorite here – Lex notes in the ad to the left that Bennett’s The Anglosphere Challenge is “One of (the) most important books I have read in recent years” – inspired two current analyses. First is “Sphere of Influence?” by Keith Windschuttle in National Review. Second is Natalie Solent’s “Evolving political forms and common culture: the Anglosphere” at Samizdata.

    Posted in Anglosphere | Comments Off